Licensed comic books are tough to tackle. Artists often have to subsume their own style in favor of fans demanding photo-realistic images of the stars (to say nothing of the studios’ requests), and writers have to craft stories that are locked into specific “you can or can’t do this” lists because of the fear that it will contradict something within the main property. Tackling a property that’s still running is even more difficult in that regard, because with the show (or film or book or whatever it’s based upon) is still active. That means that you need to slot your stories into something that’s still moving forward, and it also means that you’re secondary because people can just experience the original instead. With all of that in mind, I’m truly impressed with Al Ewing, Rob Williams, and Simon Fraser’s work on “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” #1, because it nails the tone and spirit right out of the gate.
The trio introduces Alice Obiefune, a woman whose mother just passed away, and whose world has figuratively and literally become dull and gray. “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” #1 takes the idea of grief and turns it into a visual centerpiece of those early pages, with no colors save for a little blue box in the corner of a few panels. As Ewing and Williams follow Obiefune through her life and show how it’s starting to slowly crumble, Fraser’s visuals (and Gary Caldwell’s colors) make this despair and depression seem startlingly real and relatable.
So of course, with the bursting of an alien life form into the scene, that explosion of color returning to Alice’s life has a perfect impact on the reader, as Alice gets swept into the world of the Eleventh Doctor (set sometime between “A Christmas Carol” and “The Impossible Astronaut”). I appreciate that Ewing and Williams gave us a done-in-one story; there’s a beginning, middle and end, which gives us a better chance to understand what their run on the series is like and if we want to continue. Based on this first issue, you’ll want to stick around. It’s paced well, with just the right mixture of plot, character drama and a vein of humor. Alice is important to the resolution of the story, but at the same time the Doctor is still vitally important to the story. It’s as much about the interaction between Doctor and new companion here as anything else; that’s an element of the show that’s been front-and-center in the 21st century, and Ewing and Williams are wise to continue that here.
Fraser’s art is great; it’s expressive and energetic, with some real great comedic moments like the sequence with the Doctor getting distracted by a surprise element and slamming into the lamp post. It wouldn’t have been effective without someone holding Fraser’s skills; the shift from startled to slapstick is great, and I feel like Fraser truly captures the elastic, rubbery way that actor Matt Smith was able to manipulate his face. Smith is one of the actors to play the Doctor where the physical demeanor is as important as the dialogue, and Fraser nails it here.
“Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” #1 is an incredibly strong first issue; it’s a real delight to see a licensed comic just hit the mark right out of the gate. There’s even a great one-page back-up by Marc Ellerby focusing on the Pond family on date night, and let’s just say that Ellerby packs in the laughs in just a few short panels. I’m definitely coming back for a second issue. Nicely done, all involved. It’s a real relief to see a “Doctor Who” comic this strong.